AFRICAN AMERICAN EDUCATION
The history of African American education is complex, but the brief outline of the W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington conflicts help to illustrate the emotions and ideas involved in this significant piece of history.
W.E.B. DuBois was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard. He was a founder of the NAACP and a successful writer. He is credited with writing nineteen books in his lifetime making huge strides for the African American community. His views changed during his lifetime. He began as a supporter of Booker T. Washington and ended his life as a communist in Ghana.
Booker T. Washington was born a slave in Franklin County, Virginia. He was probably a mixed race child, but did not feel the pride that DuBois felt of his ancestry. He worked hard after emancipation and found himself appointed head of the Tuskegee Institute in 1881. He took Tuskegee from a "community subsisting mainly on fat pork and corn bread to a progressive modern town" (Wish 30). He taught the newly freed African Americans to be teachers, craftsmen and businessmen and make their own way in the world. Washington stressed learning by doing the task and not by theories or abstract ideas. He believed that with training the African American would become economically indispensable and the White American society would open it's doors to them.
The beliefs of Washington and DuBois were related until DuBois' book The Souls of Black Folk was published. DuBois almost accepted a teaching position at Tuskegee prior to his first book. The offer came too late to unite Washington and DuBois. DuBois felt the "Talented Tenth" of the African American population should be able to be more than farmers and "money-makers." The tenth of the population that DuBois wrote about was the portion he hoped to elevate to leaders of the race. He thought they ought to have a classical college education just like White leaders of society. Washington was criticized for ignoring "the talented tenth and left the Negro forever as a hewer of wood and a drawer of water" (Wish 31). Washington advocated manual training for African Americans so that they could work their way up the economic ladder. He was hoping to create the "black bourgeoisie," whereas DuBois would settle for no less than equality.
DuBois had been criticized for ignoring the small strides that Washington's work accomplished and only concentrating on the ultimate goal, total equality. Washington found himself under heavy criticism for working too closely with the white leaders and allowing himself to compromise his beliefs for small insubstantial laws for African Americans.
Washington was able to adjust to the changes in society while DuBois was not. The NAACP might have been more pragmatic under Washington. The leadership of DuBois gave the NAACP a "militant stance" (Clark 244). Washington's approach to civil rights may have hindered the movement in the South (Clark 245). The accomodating stance that Washington and the southern whites followed left the movement at a slow crawl for many years, and shifted the concentration to the north (Clark 245).
The conflict between the two leaders spanned many years and several topics, but they both made significant changes in the lives of the African American through hard work and solid belief. Although, their approach was vastly different their work will be immortalized in the history books forever.
The Negro Since Emancipation, Edited by Harvey Wish 1964.
Afican American Political Thought, Clark, pg. 244-245.
Prepared by Sarah Wright